Connie Chung: Skeptical of Skepticism

by Rachel Coen & Jim Naureckas

EXTRA Update, from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, December 2002


On her October 7 broadcast, CNN's Connie Chung took a U.S. congressmember to task for doubting George W. Bush.

After Rep. Mike Thompson (D.-Calif.) told Chung that there seemed to be no evidence that Iraq posed an immediate danger to the United States or its allies, the anchor responded, "Well, let's listen to something that President Bush said tonight, and you tell me if this doesn't provide you with the evidence that you want."

She then aired a clip from a speech that Bush made in Cincinnati, in which he stated that "some Al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq," and claimed that "Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making, in poisons and deadly gases," adding that "after September 11, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated."

After the soundbite, Chung continued: "Congressman, doesn't that tell you that an invasion of Iraq is justified?"

Thompson began to respond: "Connie, we haven't seen any proof that any of this has happened. I have sat through all the classified briefings on the Armed Services...."

But this appeared to be too much for Chung. She interrupted Thompson, saying, "You mean you don't believe what President Bush just said? With all due respect ... you know ... I mean, what...."

Faced with Chung's obvious alarm that someone might not take Bush's word as definitive proof, Thompson tried to reassure her: "No, no, that's not what I said.... I said that there has been nothing in the committee hearing briefings that has substantiated this. If there is substantiation, we need to see that in Congress, not hear it over the television monitor."

Later in the broadcast, Chung suggested that skepticism of Bush was equivalent to an endorsement of Saddam Hussein: "It sounds almost as if you're asking the American public, 'Believe Saddam Hussein, don't believe President Bush.'"

Rather than insinuating that it's unpatriotic to question a commander-in-chief, Chung might better have done her own investigation of whether or not Bush's statements on Iraq have been trustworthy. That was the approach taken by two reporters for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, who interviewed more than a dozen military, intelligence and diplomatic officials on this question (10/8/02).

Strobel and Landay reported that all of the officials they spoke with charged that "administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses-including distorting his links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network-have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East."

The Knight-Ridder story addressed the very issue on which Chung chided Thompson for doubting Bush: "The officials said there's no ironclad evidence that the Iraqi regime and the terrorist network are working together or that Saddam has ever contemplated giving chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda, with whom he has deep ideological differences."

"Go back to Czechoslovakia"

While it's Chung's job to ask tough questions of politicians like Thompson, asking him how he dares to contradict another government official is hardly the way to go about it. But that approach is consistent with Chung's style; this wasn't the first time she'd berated a guest for a supposed lack of patriotism.

Consider Chung's interview with Martina Navratilova (7/17/02), after the Czech-born tennis star made news for criticizing the U.S. political system in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit. Chung read back the quote in question:

The most absurd part of my escape from the unjust system is that I have exchanged one system that suppresses free opinion for another. The Republicans in the U.S. manipulate public opinion and sweep controversial issues under the table. It's depressing. Decisions in America are based solely on the question of how much money will come out of it and not on the questions of how much health, morals or environment suffer as a result.

Chung was forthright about her own reaction to this, telling Navratilova, "When I read this, I have to tell you that I thought it was un-American, unpatriotic. I wanted to say, go back to Czechoslovakia."

Navratilova explained that she loved he United States and felt it was her duty to speak out, asking Chung, "Why is that "unpatriotic?" Chung replied, "Well, you know the old line, love it or leave it."

For Chung, apparently, love means never having anything critical to say.

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